One number was the story of Thursday’s opening Copa America match: 10.

There were tons of 10s at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Argentina and Canada, who played the most important international soccer match in Atlanta’s history. Argentina won it 2-0.

There were 10s on the back of Barcelona jerseys. There were 10s on the backs of dark blue Paris Saint-Germain jerseys. There were 10s on the back of pink or black Inter Miami jerseys. Most of the 10s were on the back of blue or white or blue Argentina jerseys. There were so many 10s that added together, either by the number of shirts or numerical total, it was too much ciphering for journalists.

The 10s were, of course, for Lionel Messi, not Chipper Jones.

“This is the game of my life,” said Laura Reilly, originally from Argentina but who now lives in east Cobb with her husband Richard, and her two daughters, each of whom were wearing one of the classic blue-and-white striped tops, bought by one of her daughters, Olivia, while visiting family in Argentina last summer. The female Reillys were also painting the easily-recognized stripes on their faces while standing in the shade of a tree outside the stadium.

Though they could have come to any Atlanta United match, or any of the other matches the city has hosted, Wednesday’s is the only soccer match that Riley has ever attended. She came because she said it may be her last chance to see Messi – “I love Messi” -- and many of the other standouts she adores on Argentina’s team. She and her daughters named many of them, rattling off last names almost as if it were a song only they knew.

“Argentina is different,” Olivia said.

Richard joked that Laura might Skype or WhatsApp some family members in Argentina during the match to show them who she was watching.

The throng of 10s didn’t congregate exclusively at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

With each stop a MARTA train made on its trek from the airport station to Vine City, a jumping-off point to get to the stadium, more 10-wearing Messi supporters would get on. There were at least 15 on just one car, including a father-son duo who traveled from Orange County on a 24-hour turnaround trip just to see Messi play live. There were also three Canadian supporters wearing red shirts. Those didn’t have 10s on the back.

Dennis Palacios, an Atlanta United season-ticket holder since 2017, mixed two of his passions by wearing a Messi Argentina kit he bought after they won the 2022 World Cup, and a gigantic gold chain that was highlighted by an Atlanta United emblem.

Palacios, who lives in Lilburn, bought his Copa America tickets right behind the team benches as soon as the presale started because he wanted to see Messi in person for the first time.

“I’m trying everything,” he said.

Palacios came to the Atlanta United-Inter Miami match last year but Messi didn’t travel with his MLS teammates.

“It’s very exciting,” Palacios said. “The opening game in Atlanta, which is my hometown, I consider my hometown, it’s just exciting.”

Argentina fans show a Lionel Messi jersey moments before the inaugural Copa America game between Argentina and Canada at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

For the record, there were other 10s being worn by people walking around the stadium before the game: Carlos Teves, another Argentine legend, was repped, as was French standout Kylian Mbappe and, of course, Diego Maradona, the only other Argentine player who rivals Messi for affection and reverence.

The stadium opened at 5 p.m. When the presumed Argentina buses were shown on the 58-foot tall halo board around 6 p.m., cheers went up. After the bus parked, and Messi was shown walking through the back-of-the-house part of the stadium at 6:30 p.m., you would have thought he had just scored a goal based upon the volume of the cheers. It happened again a few minutes later, this time with “Mes-si, Mes-si” cheers. And the stadium wasn’t even yet half full.

Two in-house MCs got the crowd in the stadium, now three-fourths full on its way to more than 70,000, to start the “Mes-si, Mes-si” chant again at 7 p.m. as people expectantly waited on Argentina to take the field for warmups.

Canada took the field for warmups at 7:15 p.m. They were booed. Lustily.

Argentina took field at 7:24 p.m. It was cheered. Heartily.

Messi was introduced as part of the starting 11 at 7:25 p.m. on the halo board. Big, big yells.

Messi leading Argentina onto the field to finally play at 7:54 p.m. with two children on either side of him smiling like they were holding the right and left hands of Santa Claus ... massive noises.

Then the game was played.

Messi’s first shot in the 10th minute drifted wide left by a few inches. The anticipatory noise rose from the crowd over the few seconds it took for him to catch up to a through pass before he struck the ball with his magical left foot. His second flew very wide in the 45th minute.

Argentina’s Julian Alvarez scored in the 49th minute to give Argentina a 1-0 lead. There were more cheers, proving not everyone was there just for Messi, who played a pass that Alexis Mac Allister reached just before Canada goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau and pushed to the right to Alvarez. If it were an MLS match, Messi would have gotten a secondary assist.

Argentina forward Lionel Messi (10) controls the ball during the first half against Canada in their match during the 2024 Copa America at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Messi’s next chance to create magic came in the 65th minute when he had only Crepeau to beat following a long punt by Emiliano Martinez. Messi’s first shot was saved but he got to the rebound. He and Crepeau squared up to each other, just a few feet between them, 12 yards from goal. Messi feinted one direction before going another. Crepeau was fooled. But Messi’s shot was blocked by an onrushing Canadian defender. Messi started to try to reach the loose ball but stopped, apparently out of energy after the long sprint to reach the ball.

Messi was again played in and again was thwarted by Crepeau, who forced him to chip a shot wide left in the 79th minute in front of an announced attendance of 70,564, 10th-highest for a soccer match in Atlanta history.

Messi tried again in the 82nd minute when he intercepted a pass in Canada’s defensive third. The deflection went to Lautaro Martinez, whose shot went wide.

Messi earned a traditional assist in the 88th minute when he played in Martinez, who beat Crepeau from close range, to give Argentina a 2-0 lead. The thousands of 10-wearing supporters who came from around the city, the state, the country and the world erupted because they finally got what they came for: A Messi memory.

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